Real Time Payments Network

Bank Note Money Usd Funds Bills Us-dollar DollarThe clearing house has released business principles that outline the operation of the real time payments (RTP) Network. A full set of guidelines is here.

These are important inasmuch as they set out key points, among them most importantly:

TCH runs the RTP network as a utility for the benefit of the industry and RTP fees shall continue to be flat for all participants regardless of size, and shall not include volume discounts or minimum volume requirements.

It does though, contains a super-clause, which is typical of the monopolistic “free market” here in America. In an effort to restrain competition, and limit the ability of smaller financial institutions, the clause reads:

These principles apply so long as the RTP network is the only provider of faster real-time clearing and interbank settlement.

So here we are again, with another great example of limited competition. Who would provide an alternative, well, as listed in a prior post, the big tech companies are not likely to sign-up and get locked into RTP charging. Also, the Federal Reserve is considering a Faster Payments Network.

Sigh, here we go again, more glacial progress and lack of choice. Don’t stop ordering checkbooks anytime soon.

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‘Why does a check take as long to clear today as it did in 1982?’

The latest American Banker Podcast mirrors my recent post about Tech taking over the banks. Aaron Klein, a Brookings Institute fellow, makes a compelling argument for why the American banking system needs to be updated, unlike my general frustration, knowing that better is perfectly possible.

Among other reasons, Klein points out that people who are unfortunate enough to have their bank account balance at or near zero, deserve better. They need to know how long a check will take to process, how long before the deposit is final, and when they can plan payments for bills based on availability of funds. It’s well worth a listen. You can hear it below, or take the link over to the American Banker.

Faster Payments – Will tech eat the banks?

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Checks and Pony Express

At last the big, big tech companies are driving the US Federal Reserve to sponsor and get behind a faster payments initiative.

Amazon, Apple, Google, PayPal, Square, Stripe and Intuit, have all co-signed a letter supporting the the Fed being in charge of the development of a system that can connect all the banks and credit unions in the U.S. to speed up payments. I’ve long complained here that the US System is laughably out of date, and the system Automated Clearing House and its associated network is still loosely based on the delivery times of the Pony Express and definately around checks.

The ACH itself still describes itself as a using batch processing and a store-and-forward system. And that’s exactly the problem, the store-and-forward part and the regional centers deployed to support it are largely based on the old Pony Express delivery model. The ACH and it’s partners have pivoted since the push by the tech giants, to lauding their fraud and safety. Largely the only reason they can is because of the huge inefficiency and delays built into their system, rather that the inherent security qualities they’ve developed.

While a fast payments network should not be implemented over the public Internet, it’s simply both unbelievable, and unacceptable that my bank cannot not directly send money from my account to your account. This isn’t about Bitcoin and similar nonsense, it does require databases that have the attributes of a Blockchain, but it doesn’t require a Blockchain. This isn’t spin to invest in some imaginary new technology, it is merely a plea to move to a modern switching network, with updated apps.

I don’t transfer money around in Europe or the UK anymore, maybe once a year or so. However, I’ve been able to use the UK Fast Payments network via my UK Bank, FirstDirect, to instantly pay other banks/accounts in the UK, as well as transfer money from UK Pounds Sterling to Euro’s in a German bank in less than 2-hours, all at not cost to me, and using a single system, rather than a secondary system, branded app, or external service. Faster Payments isn’t just a year or two ahead of the US, it’s currently celebrating its 10th Anniversary, and will likely be on its 15th before the US has anything.

That’s mostly why services like PayPal, Stripe, Square, PopMoney exist. To allow the banks and credit unions offer a service they themselves can’t offer. Also, when originally launched it was a way of charging extra for a service that was faster and more flexible than their ACH system offered. Any institution currently charging for these services is charging for lipstick on a big now.

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I first came to the USA in 1983 to work on the server-side of worlds first home banking system, Pronto, at Chemical Bank in New York; in 1987, I was hired by IBM UK in their London Banking Branch, to help London banks like Lloyds Bank, NatWest and TSB, as well as Abbey National, prepare their systems to start Year 2000 (Y2K) testing.

Finally, in 1998, was the Chief Architect for IBM in their NatWest (Business) Online implementation. The first at-scale version of Internet banking at National Westminster Bank, after failed projects by Sun Microsystems and Microsoft.

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I have some idea of the complexity of updating and integrating batch, hub and spoke systems, it’s no cheap or easy. While it’s easy to assert the banks don’t want to change because as everyone believes, “they are making money out of the delays”. They are really not, in any meaningful way. What they are doing is simply avoiding making key investments and dressing it up under the guise of safety and security. Now they are blaming the “lack of a mandate“.

as everyone believes, “they are making money out of the delays”

And that’s what is likely to be their undoing. They’ll continue to push back and resist, until so much of their business has shifted to non-core systems. While the likes of Amazon and Google have to be in the ACH, and have Fed backing and security, they can increasingly provide a home run around the traditional banks.

Retail vs Investment Banking

I’ve no idea what long term this change will make, but was delighted to receive this notification from my UK Bank, first direct, and HSBC subsidiary.

Something we are (very) unlikely to see here in the US in the near future.

Letter from HSBC

What is says is

We wanted to let you know that in line with new regulations introduced after the global financial crisis, later this year HSBC will be changing the way it’s structured in the United Kingdom (UK).

The new rules mean all banks with deposits of UKP 25bn or more will have to keep their “retail banking” business seperate from their “wholesale and investment banking” businesses, also known as ‘ring-fencing’.

Of course, this won’t stop another global financial meltdown, but at least in principle, they won’t be gambling with our money. If it happens it will still have as dramatic impact since the stocks, shares, futures, and companies will be hit the same way and everything will lose value as it did before. When all is said and done though, this is a good move.

Your move Elizabeth Warren.

Medical Billing update

After spending another hour yesterday making calls to try to come to a conclusion over the 2x appointments and treatment I had for my leg wound back in August and early September. I’ve been applying the lessons learned, experience I’ve had resolving my billing for my heart attack, which i close to, but not yet finally resolved. Here are some tweets I sent after getting off the phone yesterday.

Just checking in…

My disdain for the US Banking system should be obvious to anyone who follows my blog. Their attempts at modernizing, really are just “lipstick on a pig”.

While most countries are looking for ways to get out of the check processing business, and many to avoid it all together, using micro-banking and straight-through-processing to enable both a more effective user experience, and also reduce risk inherent in a real-time banking system. The UK even initially announced an end-date for the use of “cheques” in 2018, although that was later withdrawn. It’s still possible to transfer money between accounts in different banks within the UK banking system almost instantly and within 15-minutes, and for free.

Not so here in the USA. Much to my disappointment, I recently ran out of checks for my Texas FCU. It was the easiest and most effective way to pay some big bills for the construction work we’ve been doing, as well as bills for our wedding. I went online to the FCU and clicked order checks, it took me to an external website, where I was unable to order checks. Turns out the 3rd party had my address from when I first ordered 250 checks back in 2006.

You can’t change the address online, I had to call the FCU, they had to go through the update process and order the checks for me. Sure enough 8-dys later they appeared in my mailbox.

Mobile Ready Checks

Much to my “surprise” the checks have changed, just a little bit. They now include accommodation of the process which allows us to pay cheques in by taking pictures and submitting them on out phones via an app. I’m sure someone is feeling pretty smug, they’ve just invented pig lipstick.

Everything a consumer or non-financial institution does in terms of moving money around depends on the ACH, it’s not just checks, it’s pretty much anything online. Hey, but there’s an eCheck API.

Bloomberg had a good article on America’s addiction to checks back in July, by @kate_robertson – I think though they tackled it from the wrong angle, the reason people are addicted is because they work, and the patchwork of alternatives and restrictions on how they can be used has put them off if they’ve tried them.

My local credit union, Elevations FCU does a pretty good job at working within the confines of the American Clearing House and Federal Reserve straight jackets. Their technology is pretty solid, and their process limits, reasonable. Their mobile app has fingerprint sign-in, a good UI, and access to Popmoney, with useable daily and monthly limit. Their effectiveness and ability to innovate though is still hampered by the “system”.

My Texas FCU, Amplify, so mirrors their roots and seems incapable of escaping them. They started life as the IBM Federal Credit Union in Texas in 1967, and they’ve struggled much like their namesake to move with the times. While they have Internet/Web banking, I’ve had numerous problems and one acknowledged defect between their web and backend systems which frustrated my efforts to avoid paying by checks. They also claim Texas State rules prevent them from allowing various amounts above $1,000 in an out of accounts, especially Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) accounts.

Time for a new deal?

Involuntary under-employment, the bitter price of austerity; Involuntary migration, the bitter fruit of concetrating decent jobs in small areas.

Neither globalization nor electricfied fences can fix this. It is delusional to believe that Britain or America can prosper sustainably when neighbouring nations are in a crisis.

Subtlety and leadership we cant expect from Trump and May. This is a great series of short video op-eds from BBC Newsnight.

Brexit and the economy

There are plenty of people who think the current state of the UK economy is a cause for celebration.  Lots of numbers up including employment.

This belies the uncertainty ahead,  and while the UK Pound continues to be at an effective 20% discount to the US Dollar,  resources,  people,  products and services in the UK are effectively cheap.

While this is likely to continue,  those celebrating it as a result inside the UK should think again. In so much as individuals and business in the UK can acquire all the raw materials they need for manufacturing and business in the UK,  it would be great. Sadly,  apart from personal service,  there are few to no products in the UK made entirely in the UK from UK Raw material.

Exceptions are of course energy, oil,  gas, wind,  solar.  Add to that nuclear power,  and outside of the labor,  technology requirements, the UK is expanding.  Add to this government endorsed push for increased fracking,  often overriding local wishes and you have one sector that is somewhat protected.

The rest economy though,  doesn’t look so good. Anything bought overseas,  finished goods,  imported food, and raw materials will increase in price overcome coming months and years until the cable(UKP/USD)  resets to something like the $1.50 mark.

FYI. Most futures contracts and supply contracts sources from overseas are priced in USD,  even if they don’t involve US companies or US resources.

So,  what do the currency experts say? The following is the XE Market Analysis for December 30th 2016.

Not so happy new year.

Sterling has been trading with a heavy tone in the final week of 2016 trading, making a two-month low versus the dollar, a seven-week nadir against the euro and a one-month low versus the yen. The pound has now more than reversed the gains seen from early November, when the BoE adopted a neutral policy bias, through to early/mid December. The pound remains over 17% down versus the dollar since the Brexit vote in late June, and by some 12% in the case against the euro. BoE MPC member McCafferty last week warned that rising inflation and slowing global growth would hit the supply side of the economy in 2017, and there is a general view that UK growth will be sub-optimal over the next year as Brexit-related uncertainties drag on. Cable support is at 1.2200, while initial resistance is at 1.2297-1.2300, which encompasses the year-end holiday-season highs, ahead of 1.2344-50. We anticipate a return to levels around 1.2100.

Everything wrong with the US Financial System in one man

I’ve been avoiding blogging during the election cycle to stay away from turning my blog into another pile of steaming bile.

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Image from occupy.com

The more I learn about Strumpf(any coincidence to John Olivers #makdonalddrumpfagain purely coincidental), the former CEO of Wells Fargo, the more he becomes the poster boy for everything wrong with the “too big to fail” banks.

The head of any organization sets the strategy, and the tone of the implementation of the organizations strategy. Bad ones do only one, or neither. Strumpf seems to be in the later category based on his testimonial to a House panel on the recent Wells Fargo creation of unwanted accounts, charges etc. When a major corporation has to fire over 5,000 lower level employees, the is no way the CEO wasn’t responsible for the culture that allowed this to happen.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, this morning I read Kathy Kristofs article about Strumpfs stock sale, prior to announcement of the settlement over the illegal activities. While reading this it’s worth making a mental note of the numbers and sheer scale. Remember that ordinary bank customers were charged around $2.4-million in charges related accounts they hadn’t asked for. Apart from this at least having the appearance of insider dealing/trading it reveals the absurd and clearly unjustified amounts of money in the system.

Stumpf sold nearly 3 million Wells Fargo shares in 2016, which is almost 10 times the 351,991 shares he sold the previous year, according to SEC filings. His profit on the 2016 sales amounted to $65.4 million.

Strumpf must be investigated for this, and an example made of him. Otherwise, the country and it’s leaders are sending the same message to the financial industry titans, as they would be sending to their organizations, bending and breaking the rules is OK.

For more on Strumpf, Nomi Prins has a list of his “crimes” and failings while CEO.

Shared, Co-operative banking

2897D64F00000578-3077773-image-m-7_1431445606983[1]I’m still mystified over banking here in the USA, some 20-years after leaving the industry in 1986. Arcane rules; differences from State to State; duplication, overlap and the too-big-to-fail banks. I’ve complained here before.

My current frustration comes from trying to maintain two different credit union accounts. One in Texas with Amplify FCU (the ex-IBM Employee credit union) and another in Colorado, Elevations FCU. Elevations web and mobile apps are far better than those from Amplify. But both seem to be “hand-tied” by rules that were credited back in the 1980’s.

Today’s frustration is summarised in these tweets.

This, after trying to move $1,000 online from an account at Amplify, to another Amplify account, only to be told that Texas laws only a minimum of $4,000 to be transferred daily, after you transfer $4,000, you can transfer back $3,000 the same day. Huh ?

Either way, money takes forever to move around, and often comes with a heavy charge. Miss the 2:30pm deadline for transfers in Texas, that’s a different charge if you go overdrawn. Meanwhile, I can transfer money from one bank to another in the UK in less than 15-minutes, no charge. I can also transfer money from a UK Bank to a German Bank within 2-hours, no charge.